Pointers for grazing in wet weather

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With the 2011 grazing season underway I imagine everyone is moving livestock to new paddocks on a regular basis by now. It has been extremely wet in our area so it’s been a challenge to rotate livestock to areas where grass is growing without pugging soils and damaging the sod base in those paddocks.

Suggestions

Paddocks which are predominantly fescue can sustain more abuse than most other grasses and still have good forage growth come back. Feeding hay for a few days in a sacrifice area or on a feed pad would be another option if water saturated soils continues.

By about this time last year we had already achieved the peak grass growth week of the 2010 grazing season as reported by those participating in the pasture measurement study for Ohio State University Extension. The five year average for this study shows the week of May 16 is the top producer of pounds of forage grown per day in pastures.

To see more information on this topic visit the OSU Extension Forage Team’s website at http://forages.osu.edu/ and click on the “Weekly Pasture Growth” link.

Considerations

With fertilizer prices so high again this year, each producer should evaluate their need for forage and when the forage will be fed. Fertilizing pastures at this time of year has several drawbacks.

Increased grass growth from fertilizer applications in early spring often adds to the problem of not having enough livestock to keep ahead of forage growth. Plants get too mature and livestock do not want to eat them.

The months of April, May and June generally account for 60 percent of our yearly grass growth, so don’t compound your pasture problem by fertilizing now. Another reason not to spread fertilizer on pastures early in spring is grass tetany. Fertilizing grass in the spring can reduce uptake of magnesium in the forage plant. This can increase the chance of grass tetany in your livestock.

Another issue

Research has also shown fertilizing fescue pastures early in the spring can increase the level of endophyte in the fescue plant. Ingesting high levels of endophyte can increase body temperature, reduce milk produced by the cow and reduce average daily gain of calves.

A better choice for fertilizing pastures would be to spread fertilizer in mid-to-late June. This should be done right before a rain event, so grass re-growth is maximized just before the summer slump (slowed growth period) occurs.

If you need extra pasture now, consider only covering a portion of the pasture area with fertilizer. No more than one-third of your total pasture should be fertilized this early.

Another option, and maybe the best, would be to keep the fertilizer until August and use it on areas where you could stockpile grass the livestock could use during the late fall and winter months.

A real advantage to this strategy is that you do not have to bale as much hay because with adequate stockpiled forage, feeding hay does not need to start until maybe January or February. At that point it’s only three months until spring, and grass can be grazed again. Do some calculating to see how many bales that might be compared to your current system.

Increase yields

If you need additional hay and want to increase your first cutting forage yields, now (as soon as the ground is firm enough to support equipment) is a good time to make fertilizer applications. Hay crops will make the best utilization of nitrogen during early spring when ground temperatures and moisture are most suitable for grass growth.

If it is high quality and quantity of second cutting hay you desire, wait until you take first cutting hay off and then apply fertilizer. This application should be done before a rain so the nitrogen portion of the fertilizer does not volatilize and you lose it in the air.

Strategic applications of broadcast fertilizer can be very beneficial when used properly. Determine your needs and use the correct timing to get the most out of your purchased nutrients.

About the Author

The author is an Ohio State University Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Educator in Monroe County, Ohio. More Stories by Mark Landefeld

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